Although some people would call ducks an expensive pet, they’re so worth it. These birds are sociable, friendly, and highly entertaining. When it comes to choosing between chickens and ducks, I’d recommend you go for the latter.
Not only do ducks have a more developed personality, but they also lay eggs more frequently than chickens and can live much longer when well-cared for. But what do ducks eat?
Can ducks eat fish? Yes, they can. Many duck species are primarily marine or aquatic, meaning that fish as a food source is always available to them. And since fish are quite nutrient-dense as food, no wonder ducks would want to eat them. The ducks that commonly feed on fish include Common Mergansers, Seaducks, Stifftails, Scoters, and Diving Ducks.
In this article, I will tell you everything you need to know about feeding fish to your pet or wild ducks.
The diet of ducks
Before we discuss how and why fish are a part of ducks’ diet, let’s first get familiar with these waterfowls’ diet and feeding habits.
Did you know that there are over 180 recognized duck species in the entire world? They’ve been divided into different families based on their geographical location and other attributes. It’s obvious that not all of them would follow the exact same diet.
However, as a general rule, these waterfowls follow an omnivorous diet that consists of grasses, aquatic weeds and plants, insects and worms, small amphibians and mollusks, and fish.
Now, let’s take a deeper look at the factors that determine the diet of each species.
Factors on which their diet depends
Five major factors dictate the diet of a duck. These are:
A duck’s bill structure decides what they can easily and efficiently feed on. For instance, the shovelers have a broad, shovel-shaped bill that helps them filter food easily. Therefore, these ducks largely feed on aquatic insects and algae.
On the other hand, narrow-billed ducks like mergansers can only eat fish conveniently.
Like all birds, changing season also controls what a duck might eat. During the spring and summer months, when these birds mate and procreate, they need more protein and will actively seek insects to feed on.
However, when they already face food scarcity in winters, ducks will eat anything they can find without being picky.
If you live in a coastal area, would you go up the mountains to gather fruits to eat? You wouldn’t, right? You’d rather eat foods that are easily available in your locality. The same is true for ducks; their habitat plays a key role in their diet.
The duck species that dwell in wetlands are known to feed on frogs and other amphibians, while those that inhabit forests are primarily frugivores. Yet others that live near grasslands are seen eating grass, weeds, and grains.
As you already know, birds that reside in cold areas travel to warmer destinations during winters to escape the bone-chilling cold. Ducks are no exception to this rule; as the weather of their breeding grounds grows harsher, they prepare to travel south.
And while these waterfowls might have different food preferences all year round, during migration, they need to adjust their diet according to the availability of food sources on their route.
Lastly, the feeding or hunting style adopted by a particular species can also say a lot about what they’d be regularly eating.
For instance, the dabbling ducks never go farther than shallow waters while looking for food. Because of this, their staple diet mainly consists of aquatic plants and insects.
On the other hand, diving ducks like pochards venture in deep water and, thus, feed on fish and crustaceans commonly.
Ducks that commonly eat fish
If you were paying attention to our discussion above, you already know that all duck species can eat fish depending on the availability of food. However, in this section, we’re not going to talk about the ducks that can eat fish but about those that feed on fish most commonly.
Following are the ducks that have access to an abundance of fish in their habitat and, thus, feed on them actively. Take a look:
Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser)
Among all duck species that feed on fish, the Common Mergansers are most common. They’re a large seaduck species that primarily resides in the lakes and rivers of North America, Europe, and Asia.
Common Mergansers possess a sharp-edged bill that helps them in catching fish. Apart from fish, their diet also includes aquatic worms, insects, mollusks, crustaceans, and amphibians.
Named after their stiff tail feathers, the stiff-tailed duck species are almost completely aquatic. As you can expect, their diet is aquatic as well and includes small fish, aquatic plants, and insects.
Here is all six species of the stifftail (Oxyura) genus:
- Ruddy Duck
- Andean Duck
- Blue-billed Duck
- Maccoa Duck
- Lake Duck
- White-headed Duck
Named after their unique whistling calls, the whistling ducks are a waterfowl family that generally reside in lagoons, dams, and flooded grassland. They’re primarily nocturnal feeders and eat plant materials like stems, grasses, and seeds, along with aquatic insects and occasionally small fish.
Following are the eight extant whistling duck species:
- Plumed Whistling Duck
- Wandering Whistling Duck
- Black-bellied Whistling Duck
- Fulvous Whistling Duck
- Spotted Whistling Duck
- Lesser Whistling Duck
- White-faced Whistling Duck
- West Indian Whistling Duck
Scoters are a family of stocky seaducks that primarily dwell in the northern areas (North America, Europe, and Asia) and have characteristically swollen bills.
Because they spend most of their lives in the sea, their diet consists exclusively of marine organisms like fish, mussels, gastropods, and crustaceans.
Here are all the surviving scoter species in the world:
- American Scoter
- Velvet Scoter
- Surf Scoter
- Common Scoter
- Stejneger’s Scoter
- White-winged Scoter
Commonly referred to as “Scaups” and “Pochards,” the diving ducks are a large duck family that is known for their tendency of feeding by diving beneath the water’s surface. Their diet primarily consists of aquatic plants, insects, fish, mollusks, and crustaceans.
Following are some of the most common diving duck species in the world:
- Common Pochard
- Ring-necked Duck
- Ferruginous Duck
- Rosy-billed Pochard
- Marbled Duck
- Tufted Duck
- Greater Scaup
- Lesser Scaup
- Pink-headed Duck
Well-recognized for their striking plumage, the Eiders are a small seaduck family that breeds in the cooler regions of the Northern Hemisphere. These ducks primarily feed on small aquatic invertebrates, mollusks, crustaceans, sea urchins, and fish.
Here are three extant eider species:
- Common Eider
- King Eider
- Spectacled Eider
Advantages of eating fish for ducks (the nutritional benefits of fish)
So far, we’ve learned that fish are a common part of the diet of most duck species. But have you wondered why ducks are eager to eat fish? As a food source, what do fish have to offer them? Let’s find out.
Fish are a rich protein source
Although protein is an essential macronutrient for all living beings, it’s even more essential for birds, including ducks. It is not only required for their healthy growth but can also promote their immune health, egg production, and several other biological functions.
In fact, many studies conducted on poultry birds indicate that protein should ideally make up over 22% of their overall diet. This is where fish come in; they have protein in abundance, which can be very beneficial for ducks’ health.
Fish contain omega 3 fatty acids
Apart from protein, fish are also a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids, or Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These acids are crucial for the healthy development of all birds’ brains and eyes.
Fish contain Vitamin D in abundance
Did you know that Vitamin D is a steroid hormone? These hormones can do wonders to the immunity of all birds, including ducks. Fish species that have the highest Vitamin D content include Herrings and Salmon.
Eating fish can reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases
It might come as a surprise to many, but a fish-rich diet can not only boost your immune health but also protects you from all autoimmune diseases. The same is true for ducks.
For all these health benefits, fish are an appealing addition to ducks’ diet. If you’re a pet parent to ducks, you must make it a point to include fish in their diet.
Which fish species are common targets of ducks?
When it comes to hunting fish, the ducks generally go for all species available in their locality impartially. However, if you’re looking for the best options to feed your pet ducks, here are some species you should go for:
Can fish bones be problematic for the ducks?
While all the wild duck species feed on fish whole, along with their bones, when they’re your pets, you’re bound to worry. And indeed, if a fish has sharp bones and your feathered pets eat them, it could hurt their insides, causing splinters while they swallow or digest it.
Therefore, when you’re feeding them fish, you should remove the bones or grind them into smaller pieces so that they can eat them safely. Don’t worry; you won’t have to do it for all fish species.
The bones of smaller fish like sardines pose no threat to their health. It’s only larger fish that you need to be careful about.
What about fish eggs? Can ducks eat them?
Yes. In the wild, ducks will never hesitate before eating fish eggs. Their eggs are highly nutritious and can boost the growth and development of your ducks considerably.
If you’re a pet parent to ducks, you should feed them fish eggs as treats. It is because all ducks absolutely love their taste.
Feeding fish guts to ducks: yay or nay?
While feeding fish to ducks, most people wouldn’t give a second thought about their guts. However, it is important to note that the gut of some fish might contain tapeworms, which can spread a number of diseases in your ducks.
Therefore, when you’re feeding fish to ducks, there are two ways you can do it safely. You can either remove their guts or cook them properly.
Can you feed fish food to the ducks?
Suppose you have both fish and ducks as pets. Can you use the same food for them both? Yes, you can, particularly when the ducks are younger.
Because the dietary requirements of both ducks and fish are somewhat similar, both of them can thrive on fish pellets. Only ducks will need a bigger serving due to their larger size.
However, as your ducks grow older, feeding them merely fish pellets is not going to cover their nutritional needs. Therefore, for the adults, you can only use fish pellets as occasional treats.
Feeding fish to ducks
Feeding fish to ducks is much simpler than you could’ve thought. The best thing about it is that ducks can enjoy these treats, both raw as well as cooked.
If you’re willing to feed your feathered pets raw fish, the ideal choice for you would be smaller species like sardines and shrimps.
Once you’ve brought these home, all you need to do is wash them thoroughly and serve them into your bird’s dish. You can also mix these fish with other treats and offer them a more substantial meal.
On the other hand, if you want to cook for your pets, go for larger fish like cod or salmon. You can either bake, grill, boil, or poach these fish for your ducks. Just make sure you haven’t added any flavor or seasoning which might hurt your ducks’ sensitive digestive system.
While feeding them larger fish species, you’ll also have to be careful about cutting them up first. It is because they contain larger bones that might be too sharp for the ducks, as we’ve discussed earlier.
Can fish eat ducks, too?
As we near the end, I have an interesting question to blow your minds. While we’ve already learned that ducks eat fish, can fish eat ducks as well?
Yes, fish can eat ducks, too. Not the ones that ducks prey on since they’re far too small and powerless in front of them. The fish species that generally go after ducks are larger, predatory species like the trouts, pikes, larger catfish, largemouth bass, and so on.
However, these fish almost never go after an adult duck. At best, their preys include the ducklings.
Conclusion: Do ducks eat fish?
With this, we’ve reached the end of this article. Today, we’ve learned that ducks are omnivores creatures, and some of them spend a lot of time in the water bodies.
Although no duck, except the mergansers, feed primarily on fish, these aquatic creatures make the secondary diet of many species.
In fact, on the other hand, fish will eat ducks, too. Well, not full-fledged ducks but their younger ones.